The cameras clicked and the TUC leaders smiled as Gordon Brown addressed Congress.
This was Gordon Brown with his labour movement face on. He kept referring to “this labour movement”, talked about redundant coal miners and steel workers, praised the TUC’s award-winning reps and honoured the movement’s dead. He pushed all the buttons.
The handful of crumbs he offered were that he would keep his side of the Warwick agreement (yeah thanks, we though that was what ‘agreement’ meant!) Calm your beating heart, though, until you read the actual promises. The Labour government will:
- outlaw corporate manslaughter (after years of prevaricating);
- extend the ‘eight-week rule’ to 12 weeks ie. bosses will be legally allowed to sack strikers after 12 weeks in dispute (it should be illegal for bosses to ever sack striking workers);
- the minimum wage will rise this year and next (he didn’t mention by how much) and will be extended to 16-17-year-olds (why were they ever excluded?!).
Brown boasted about how much the government had done for pensioners (free TV licences and bus passes). So don’t worry – you might not be able to afford to eat on your paltry state pension, but you can ride on a bus or watch the box (if you can afford one).
He told us about how capitalist competition was good, and that there is no such thing as a ‘race to the bottom’. India and China, he informed us, aspired to high-skilled economies. This will be interesting news to those working in China’s sweatshops.
So, he argued, Britain needs skills too, and we must not allow anyone’s talents to go to waste. He omitted to explain where charging people to go to university fits in to this policy.
There were lots of references to ‘Britain’, ‘competitiveness’ and ‘rising to the Asian challenge’. The key to economic success, says the Chancellor is ‘stability’. Which appears to be codes for “Workers should know your place and damn well stay there”.
There must be “no return to inflationary pay rises” (unless, presumably, you are an MP, company director or high court judge).
There must be “stability in industrial relations” (in other words, we will keep most forms of effective trade unionism illegal).
Our Gordon is committed to tackling the root cause of world economic problems. Capitalism? Er no, high oil prices. And the answer? Increase oil supply to match demand and bring down prices.
On climate change, the World Bank should set up a fund to help developing countries invest in alternative energy sources. Er, excuse me, but I thought the biggest cause of climate change was pumping out of the corporations of the USA, whose government resists every effort to reduce harmful emissions. Whoops – Gordon forgot to mention that. And he also forgot to mention the 100,000+ job cuts he is making in the civil service.
At Congress this morning, Brown was a politician trumpeting his roots in the labour movement, boasting about how well he runs capitalism.
Well, I wasn’t going to be clapping that! And neither did a significant number of other delegates.
But the TUC leadership managed in their own inimitable style to construe it as a ‘friendly’ speech, and Brendan Barber rushed out a press release giving it a ‘warm welcome’. They actually seem to think that by inviting Gordon Brown to Congress and fawning at his feet, they get a hearing. Rest assured, the bosses’ organisations will get a much better hearing.